Adams: Requiem for a Kentucky sports fan
Hayden Adams | Friday, November 22, 2019
I’ve had some time to cool off from my initial reactions to what happened in the Kentucky Sports world in the past couple of weeks. A dominant win for the Kentucky football team over Vanderbilt with more than 400 yards rushing can cure a lot of maladies within a fan base after a disappointing loss. But as I sit here at nearly 2 a.m., I’m in a mood, and so I feel the need to go off on the University of Kentucky sports programs for two ATROCIOUS losses, one by the basketball team and one by the football team.
Let’s start with football since that happened first. For a little background, Kentucky has had it rough with injuries this season. Their starting dual-threat quarterback, Terry Wilson, tore his patellar tendon in the second game of the year. He was replaced by Sawyer Smith, a graduate transfer quarterback from Troy who has a good arm but makes bad decisions. Even so, he led them to a 21-10 fourth quarter lead at home against Florida before the Gators stormed back and won 29-21 (to paraphrase a national football podcaster, no team can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory like Kentucky football against Florida).
After that game, Smith hurt his shoulder and wrist over the next two games, preventing him from throwing a tight spiral more than five yards downfield and leading the Wildcats to three straight losses heading into a game against Arkansas. Now, you may wonder why Kentucky didn’t just put their third-string quarterback in. Well he, Nik Scalzo, tore his ACL before the season. Thus, they were forced to use their fourth-string quarterback, Lynn Bowden Jr., their starting slot receiver who played quarterback in high school. Their would-be fourth- and fifth-string quarterbacks, Walker Wood and Amani Gilmore, are perpetually injured and uninformed on the playbook, respectively.
Because of this, Kentucky doesn’t throw the football. It’s boring as hell, but it works. Bowden rushed for 196 yards and two touchdowns in a comeback victory against Arkansas, he led them to a 0-0 draw in the first half at Georgia (before losing 21-0 in a monsoon), ran for 204 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-7 rout of Missouri and, most recently, led Kentucky to a 38-14 victory over Vanderbilt. What’s really impressive about all this is that Bowden CANNOT pass, and teams are starting to figure that out, but Kentucky’s line is still good enough for them to run all over every team they play. But that’s where we run (no pun intended) into some frustration.
Sandwiched between Missouri and Vanderbilt was a date with Tennessee at home. Tennessee, while possessing some talented players at receiver, lost their first two games of the season, one of which was a 29-26 2OT loss to BYU, the other of which was a 38-30 loss to Georgia State. GEORGIA STATE! And the Vols were coming into Kentucky with the Cats on a roll, and they carried that momentum in to start the contest.
After Kentucky got on the board first and went up 13-0, they could do NOTHING for the remainder of the game. Well, that’s not true. They COULD rush for 302 yards on the night, convert 7-15 third downs, hold the Vols to 5-11 on third down and 14-25 completions and go 2-5 on fourth down.
What they COULD NOT do was win the game, and what makes it particularly infuriating is that they had the ball ON THE GOAL LINE in the final minutes of the game, trailing 17-13, and after running for 300 yards in spite of the fact that they went only 4-7 passing for the WHOLE NIGHT and Tennessee knew they were trying to run it, Kentucky could not run the ball four times behind the tackles and pick up six yards for a game-winning touchdown. Kudos to Tennessee, I guess, since they learned their lesson from 2011 when Kentucky beat them with a wide receiver at quarterback and ran basically the exact same scheme. Even so, expectations are low for football, so let’s shift to basketball.
Not only did No. 1 Kentucky lose. Not only did No. 1 Kentucky lose at home. No. 1 Kentucky, a week after beating the previous No. 1 Michigan State in Madison Square Garden, lost at home to Evansville. Evansville. EVANSVILLE!
I’ve already written a sports authority criticizing Kentucky coach John Calipari for his lack of creativity calling plays, and that certainly applied in this one seeing as they trailed Evansville by three with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game, called a timeout, and the whole play was for freshman Tyrese Maxey to dribble up and pull up for a three from near half court. But this is a whole new level of absurdity.
Yes, Kentucky is extremely young as they are every year. Yes, they did have a couple of key contributors hurt. And yes, the arena was lacking in fan support. But this is a team LOADED with McDonald’s All-Americans and their seven available guys still couldn’t beat a team from Evansville. Although, I do want to congratulate Evansville coach Walter McCarty who won a championship with the Cats in 1996; this is big for him and he deserves it, because he actually brought his team ready to play.
What really annoys me about this is that Calipari’s teams always put it together late in the season, and so their early season slip-ups are often forgiven. But this shouldn’t be forgiven. They were the No. 1 team in the country and lost at home to Evansville, and there is no sane world and no just God if that ever becomes acceptable in the minds of Kentucky fans.
So, in conclusion, the lower the expectations, the better a Kentucky fan’s life goes. But, being an optimist, I can’t help but get my hopes up, and so I live in a perpetual state of angst. But it’ll all be better when the Cats cut down the nets in April.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.